June 22, 2019
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)
So begins Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, biblical wisdom in poetry form on the seasons of life and human history. It is suggested reading for worship services in seasons of change — when it’s time to welcome a new year, or say good-bye to a loved one who has died, or to acknowledge the end of one era and the approach of the next. Preaching at our Virginia Annual Conference a few years ago, a former bishop based a sermon on it. The bishop wanted all present to remember that God as known in Jesus Christ, is the living Lord of the church through all our seasons and eras with their passing fads, and the inevitable passing of generations. Such a message was most appropriate in that setting: for every year’s annual conference is a time for welcoming a number of persons into the ministry, making official the re-appointments or new appointments of others to various churches, and granting the status of retirement to others.
At this year’s conference in Roanoke, my husband and I will be retiring from our respective pastoral ministries. Over the years since seminary, I have spent 29 years in pastoral appointments, worked 2 years as a Director of Christian Education, explored possibilities of teaching either at the college level or in an elementary school, and taken time off to care for my children. Regardless of where I may have been employed in a ministry of my own, I also have been the spouse of a pastor and, except for one year, living with our family in the parsonage of my husband’s church. Despite some of the challenges involved, it’s been great to have friends in two different church communities. The final 11 years of my pastoral career have been spent at Bruen Chapel United Methodist Church. Since my family moved from my hometown when I was 14, I have never related to any church for as long. I have been here long enough to see the passing away of almost all members of the so-called Builders’ Generation, and some younger persons as well. Some people have moved, perhaps after retiring. A few others have come and stayed, and assumed leadership positions. The little children who greeted me in 2008 are in high school or college now. The high school and early college students of my first year, for the most part, are well into their young adult years and on their own. Lincoln, who was born when I had been Bruen Chapel’s pastor for several years is finishing Kindergarten and preparing for first grade. Ashita and Mithila have become U.S. citizens and Harry, who has been Church Treasurer throughout my tenure, will be a citizen soon. As I keep wanting to use the word “our” in talking about my experiences as your pastor, I realize that over the years since 2008 when I began my tenure here, Bruen Chapel UMC has become my faith family.
Bruen Chapel United Methodist Church is the kind of faith community where it is difficult to be anonymous and where anyone who wants a role or job might end up having two or three. I have been impressed and inspired by the way active members have been willing to “pitch in” as needed and also support the church financially even through tough times. I have been blessed with you through our experiences with two different Wesley Theological Seminary interns, and our relationships with other seminarians who have preached when I was on vacation or helped us out occasionally in other ways. Our facility, especially when our furnace and air conditioning has been working, has been a blessing to our community through our leases with the Cedar Lane Montessori School and the Capital Community Korean Presbyterian Church, and as various organizations or neighbors have used it for musical, educational, or health-related programs. Our cash and material donations have supported Food for Others and the Salvation Army Christmas Stocking program and various United Methodist mission efforts. Our ESL program has provided persons new to our country opportunities not only to learn or practice their English, but also make friends. Any sadness that I feel at leaving you behind is tempered by the deep gratitude for the Bruen Chapel congregation’s “pluck” in the face of challenges it has faced and all the ways it has striven to be a church worthy in the eyes of our Lord during my years with you.
Having met your new pastor, though, I am happy to hand my responsibilities over to someone a bit younger than I have gotten to be and who has much to offer you. I trust that you will welcome him and commit yourselves to working with him.
Only God knows what the future may bring. Our challenge in our Christian journey is to live as faithfully as we can – loving God and neighbor after Jesus’s example (and being willing to struggle with questions about what exactly that may mean in the time at hand). As I express my thanks for the time we have had together, I also pray that in the coming seasons of this world’s life, the Bruen Chapel congregation will continue in its faithfulness.
It is with fondness that I say farewell and may the peace of the Lord be with you!
Rev. Ruth M. Burgess
P.S.: Thanks to everyone who came on June 9th for my final Sunday of worship at Bruen Chapel and then joined in a “feast-full” farewell meal in my honor at Breakers Korean BBQ. It was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves and feeling NO STRESS about set-up or clean-up. I am also grateful for all gifts received. The “robo-vac” was put immediately to work at the parsonage that we were moving out of – we are tempted to name it, since it wanders even around our new place like a pet. Bookmarks, plants, the candy machine, financial contributions, the cross, and other items either have found a place or will be put to good use as we try to settle in at our new home in Williamsburg.